It’s only been a couple of years since a typo in an email to Darwin Community Arts resulted in a fridge-themed art exhibition outside the Malak shops one afternoon – but that hasn’t stopped this year’s Fridge Festival from evolving in leaps and bounds from its humble car park beginnings.
Living in a tropical city, we have a lot of love for the fridge. In fact, this month Darwin will celebrate the old ice box with its own festival, a colourful two week program of cool art and music events.
“I find it very exciting when things grow of their own momentum,” director Natalie Sprite says enthusiastically of the Fridge Festival’s growth spurt, attributing it almost entirely to the support of the wider community. “And this is the thing, if someone comes to us and says, ‘This is the thing we want to do,’ my job is to help facilitate make that happen. The fridge works in lots and lots of ways, but it should never limit people,” she continues. “If it will help people make art, that’s fantastic, but I would hate it to stop someone making art.”
Effectively, this year’s festival has taken a variety of non-fridge-specific creative endeavours under its extensive wing – from hosting popular (mostly) local outfit Country Town Collective’s new album launch at Happy Yess to exhibiting hefty scrap steel sculptures welded together by prisoners at Darwin Correctional Centre.
Local sculptor Paul Hill has been running the welding workshops and notes the level of commitment shown by the low-security inmates involved. “They’re very engaged,” he says. “And some have really come through as talented sculptors. One guy here, Joel Pascoe, a young fella from out Maningrida way, he was just hanging around the workshops quietly, then he came and made a little chicken. Next thing he’s making a four-metre crocodile, and then a life-sized mermaid. From no previous experience to a daggy little chicken to a life-sized mermaid. I’d be offering him suggestions and he’d just quietly go, ‘No, I think I want to do it like this.’ And he’d be absolutely right. I think he’s definitely come through as a talent – a big talent. He’s discovered himself as an artist.” Other sculptures the prisoners have produced include a huge shark and a couple of towering brolgas. All will be exhibited amongst the whitegoods on display along the Lantern-lit Fridge Walk at the Darwin Waterfront.
The humble fridge remains the festival’s most recognisable feature. “The fridges are iconic,” Sprite says. “People who wouldn’t paint on a canvas will paint on a fridge. And some of the best artworks have come from people who don’t identify as artists.”
Nightcliff Primary School teacher Jo Glennon testifies to the inspiring effect a fridge can have on budding artists. As the school’s arts teacher last year, Glennon witnessed the way her transition classes responded to fridge art workshops with local painter Marita Albers. “It got them to start thinking out of the square,” she says. “Also, working with Marita, she has her own style which was good for the kids to see – that you don’t have to do an outline one way, you can have all these other little techniques.” Glennon believes her students retained Albers’ workshops’ lessons on the creative process even after the Fridge Festival had wrapped up: “I noticed more risk-taking, because they weren’t so worried about what was right or wrong. Which is ultimately what you want them to get out of the arts.”
O’Loughlin Catholic College art teacher Joanne Green agrees that the Fridge Festival has been a prolific platform for art students. The secondary school also entered fridges in the 2011 Fridge Festival, to widespread acclaim. “There was a big buzz at the school last year because we got such good media coverage, so my current students are really keen and really excited,” Green reveals. “They’re coming in at lunch time and recess. When your work is exhibited and you see people’s reactions, it’s validating.” This year three year 11 students from O’Loughlin entering work into the festival, a trio of bar fridge figures loosely influenced by the work of Mambo artists such as Reg Mombassa. “They’re all going to be very bright,” Green laughs. “They’ll really stand out this year.”
“At the end of these workshops, people know that their art is going to be exhibited as part of a festival that’s getting national and in some cases international coverage,” Sprite says, nodding once more to the festival’s crucial ingredient of community. “So people get really focussed and really excited, and we’re able to connect all those people through the exhibition. The festival is really shaped by the people who support it.”
Published in Off The Leash, October Issue
“One of my philosophies with the Fridge Festival is that it is the shape of the people who support it,” states Fridge Festival director Natalie Sprite, “So that can be anybody; from community groups like Mission Australia, to sponsors like the NT government, to local artists like Karen Roberts and Marita Albers.” Initially such a statement seems to speak counterintuitively of a rather backseat approach for a director. However, further conversation with Sprite quickly reveals the actively inclusive measures the Fridge Festival goes to in sourcing its supporters, and consequently the hugely ambitious connotations of her professed philosophy.
This year’s Fridge Festival sprawls past the confines of its humble beginnings as an afternoon in a suburban car park two years ago. The program spans two weeks over several venues across Darwin, and is not only chock-a-block with things to see, hear and do, but is generally characterised by a focus on celebrating the creativity of the greater Top End community for the greater Top End community’s sake: from primary school children to prisoners, from people living in remote regions to people living with mental illness.
Practically speaking, one of the ways the Fridge Festival realises its aim to inspire and unify through creativity is by linking local artists with a wide range of community groups. Through facilitating the creative workshops that contribute the art for fridge or esky-themed exhibitions, the Fridge Festival provides common ground to connect often-segregated social brackets.
“Sometimes you think art is just this big, wanky middle-class indulgence,” Sprite exclaims. “What I love about this festival is that it’s so clearly not. Art is something that does have potential to change people’s lives.”
While the fridge itself remains the most recognisable feature of the Fridge Festival, Sprite prefers to think of the whitegood in symbolic terms. “Last year I carried so many fridges that I really thought this year perhaps we could do a paper lantern festival instead,” she laughs, recalling her first year as Fridge Festival director. “But what the fridge does is it breaks down all the elitist stuff around art, because it’s domestic and it’s humble and it’s ubiquitous. People who wouldn’t paint on a canvas will paint on a fridge. And some of the best artworks have come from people who don’t identify as artists.”
The Fridge Festival kicks off with the launch of Darwin Waterfront’s Lantern-lit Fridge Walk. The family-friendly opening night celebrations will also feature local live music, spoken word poetry, laser art, and sculptural installations – all non-fridge-specific elements fully embraced by the festival program across its two-week period. “We keep that thread of the fridge, but it should never limit people,” Sprite explains, expressing her excitement that local support for the festival has come in such a multitude of forms. “This is a community-based festival, so it only exists if the community wants it. What is amazing is the groundswell of support that has come, and how it has just continued to grow and grow.”
Published at artsHub
Visit The Darwin Fridge Festival website.